Father Michael Cummins expanding group’s reach beyond ETSU and the Tri-Cities
As Father Michael Cummins makes the transition from chaplain for campus ministry at East Tennessee State University to chaplain at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Catholic Student Center, he’s bringing a community with him that will be new to Chattanooga.
After starting a Sant’Egidio community at ETSU four years ago, Father Cummins decided to establish a chapter of the lay community at UTC to broaden the community’s outreach once he learned he was being transferred as part of the regular diocesan priest reassignments announced in June.
Father Cummins also will be the new chaplain at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.
The Community of Sant’Egidio is recognized by the Catholic Church as a Church public lay association and is in more than 70 countries. Its work centers on prayer and Bible study, spreading the Gospels, service to the poor, work toward peace, ecumenism, and dialogue with members of other faiths.
The Community of Sant’Egidio was founded in Rome in 1968 by a group of high school students led by Andrea Riccardi. The community is named after the Roman Church of Sant’Egidio (Italian for Saint Giles) in Trastevere, the community’s first permanent meeting place. Since 1968, the community gathers regularly to pray, read from the Bible and reflect on the Gospel.
It has been spreading throughout the world with a mission of helping those in need.
Father Cummins said the community founders realized that being Christians meant being connected to the poor, which led them to the slums of Rome to begin working with the poor.
“Pope John Paul II, as bishop of Rome, visited all the parishes in Rome and came to know the Community of Sant’Egidio. He gave them an abandoned convent and chapel in Rome called Sant’Egidio, or St. Giles. They started calling themselves Sant’Egidio,” he said.
Originally there were eight founders. There now are 60,000 members, with half working in Africa.
“The community is new to the United States. There are eight U.S. communities, so it’s still very small in the U.S.,” he said. “Friendship is what the community is all about. It’s about developing a relationship and in that encounter finding Christ.”
The community is open to all ages, not just college students and all are welcome to check out the new Chattanooga community once it is up and running in September, according to Father Cummins. It will meet in the UTC Catholic Student Center.
Father Cummins has been connected to the community for about 12 years and for a decade has been actively involved. He was first introduced to Sant’Egidio when he was chaplain at Knoxville Catholic High School and took a group of students on a pilgrimage to Rome.
“After reading about Andrea Riccardi I developed a desire to start one in East Tennessee,” he said.
Father Cummins, who just completed a six-year assignment at ETSU, said Father Christian Mathis is the new chaplain at ETSU after having served as pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City and is expected to continue the Sant’Egidio community in Upper East Tennessee. Father Mathis will be assisted by Mary Jordan, a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Johnson City who is a Mercy Associate and works in administration at ETSU.
“I’m hoping to have a good foundation in East Tennessee once we get rooted in Chattanooga. It can be a very life-giving program. It’s not a program where you get the owner’s manual and go out on your own. You become connected to the community and then our community becomes connected to the Sant’Egidio communities around the world,” Father Cummins explained.
Pope Francis was introduced and became a friend of the community in Argentina and has developed a deep connection with Sant’Egidio, which shares the pontiff’s devotion to helping the poor.
“It does connect with what Pope Francis has been saying—take the Gospel into the world. It’s part of the Gospel and we’re called to do this. This strengthens the priesthood and builds on our own faith,” Father Cummins said.